Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


LEGUMES, a general name for plants of the family of Papilionaceae of the order Leguminae. In the Mishnah legumes are referred to as kitniyyot, a name derived from katan ("small"; cf. It.: leguma or minutia), because the seeds are usually small.

Though species with large seeds like pol ("broad bean," Vicia faba) belong to this family, at least in one source this species is not included among kitniyyot (Ḥul. 52a). Although in his Mishnah commentary (Kil. 2:2) Maimonides enumerates among kitniyyot only legumes, including the broad bean, in the Mishneh Torah he includes among them other species, such as rice, durra, poppy-seed and sesame (*Spices; Yad, Ḥameẓ u-Maẓẓah; 5:1). This definition of kitniyyot was taken over by other authorities, who went further and included among them many other edible seeds excluding cereals (wheat, barley, oats, etc.) which are classed as dagan ("corn") and regarded maize as a species of kitniyyot. This definition affected the laws of Passover, since among Ashkenazim kitniyyot are permitted them only in time of emergency. It should be noted that the Mishnah distinguishes between kitniyyot on the one hand and rice, durra, millet, and sesame on the other (Hal. 1:4). Thus kitniyyot originally referred only to legumes. Nowadays, a field in which legumes have been grown is considered most suitable for crop rotation with cereals. In ancient times this was not regarded as important and doubts arose whether legumes exhaust the soil more than wheat (BM 9:8; cf. BM 107a). It is to be noted that in recent years similar doubts have arisen. Legumes are richer in proteins than cereals but are not as easily digestible. They were mainly the food of the common people (see *Beans). A guest who prolonged his stay would be fed by his host with legumes (Tanh. B., Num. 156). A wife whose husband was obliged to provide her with food received four times as much wheat as legumes (Ket. 5:8), and this was probably the relation between the sown areas of cereals and kitniyyot.

Two species of legumes are mentioned in the Bible: adashim ("*lentils") and pol ("broad beans"). Lentils were the most important and one of the earliest plants in the region. In the Bible the term pol denotes only the broad bean but in rabbinic literature it was transferred by the addition of a denominative to other species too. Thus for instance pol ha-miẓri ("Egyptian bean") was cowpea, pol he-haruv ("carob bean") yard-long bean. Besides these legumes, two species of Lupinus are mentioned in rabbinic literature: turmusLupinus termis, and polaslos ("yellow lupine") – Lupinus luteus (Kil 1:3). The lupine was a cheap food and thus of importance for the poor. Because of their bitterness, the seeds had to be soaked in water or cooked a number of times, and the liquid poured off (Ber. 38b, et al.). At least two species of the genus Lathyrus were grown: tofaḥ ("grass pea") – Lathyrus sativus, and porkedan ("red grass pea") – Lathyrus cicera, both of which were considered one species as regards *mixed species (kilayim; Kil. 1:1). These names may include also other species of the genus Lathyrus, some of which grow wild in Israel and are sown at times by the fellahin. Some are of the opinion that asisiyyot or asasiyyot (Tosef., Shab. 3:1; TJ, Shab. 3:1, 5d) are also a species of Lathyrus. Today these are mainly grown as fodder, except for grass pea which is used for human consumption. The seeds are soaked in water and crushed; the taste is similar to that of broad beans (Tosef., Ter. 6:11).

Two species of vetch are mentioned in the Mishnah: sappir ("French vetch") – Vicia narbonensis, and karshinah ("bitter vetch") – Vicia ervilia, the latter used for fodder. Sappir is considered to be of the same species as pol for the law of kilayim (Kil. 1:1), and the plants and seeds of these two species of vetch are indeed very similar. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (TJ, Kil. 1:1, 27a), a tanna named Hillel b. Valas had a Hebrew-Aramaic dictionary, as well as, apparently, a Hebrew-Latin-Greek one, of plant names in which sappir was identified with pisonah, the Latin pisum which is the garden pea, Pisum sativum. This identification is doubtful and there are no other references in the Mishnah and Talmud to the growing of this pea. The Mishnah mentions once a legume she'u'it which is considered the same species as pol ha-lavan ("white beans"; Kil. 1:1). In R. Hillel's dictionary of plants she'u'it was identified with pesilta by which is meant the nile cowpea, Vigna nilotica, and pol ha-lavan with hyacinth bean, Dolichos lablab. In modern Hebrew the name she'u'it is used for the genus Phasoleus. This botanical genus originated in America, however, and was unknown to the ancients.

A valuable plant was the chick-pea, Cicer arietinum, called ḥamiẓ. This is mentioned once in the Bible (Isa. 30:24). It was called ḥamiẓ because of the vinegary taste of the young seeds and the pod. The Mishnah calls it אֲפוּנִים (afunim, sing. אָפוּן, afun), apparently from אַפּוֹן (appon; "small nose"), because it has a projection like a small nose on the round seed. These are frequently mentioned in rabbinic literature, a number of species being grown: large and small (Kil. 3:2), light and dark (TJ, Dem. 2:1, 22c). The Mishnah notes that it is a summer plant (Shev. 2:8). This is a decisive proof against the view of those who identify the afunim with garden peas which are definitely winter plants (though this latter identification has been accepted in modern Hebrew). Today chick-pea is especially popular among Oriental Jews, who prepare from it a piquant dish called ḥumus. One of the most valuable legumes was the plant tiltan (a name used today for clover), fenugreek, Trigonella foenumgraecum. Its leaves were grown for fodder and its seeds eaten when green or hard (Ma'as. Sh. 2:3; Tosef., ibid. 2:1). Its seeds are similar to those of the carob, and fenu-greek was sometimes adulterated with carob seeds (Tosef., BK 7:8). Although tiltan is not mentioned in the Bible the Talmudstates that Joshua made a number of regulations concerningit (BK 80b–81a). Nowadays it is grown chiefly for fodder, although the Yemenites grind the seeds to prepare a pungent sauce called ḥilbah.


Loew, Flora, 2 (1924), 410–4; H.N. and A.L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible (1952), 34f., 254; J. Feliks, Ha-Ḥakla'ut be-Ereẓ Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud (1963), 178–80, 273–5; idem, Kilei Zera'im ve-Harkavah (1967), 33–43, 71–89, 194f., 230–2.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.